At a Classical Encounters home concert last year, I was blown away by the solo piano performances of virtuoso, Jura Margulis. He was so delightful to meet after the concert, that I just had to feature him in the school’s blog. After a busy touring schedule, he became available and graciously provided this inspiring interview.

Jura Margulis

Jura Margulis

Q. My colleagues who are fine artists trained in classical painting, but who choose to paint or interpret images from or of today’s culture, refer to their style as Contemporary or Expressive Realism. With your extensive education and training in a wide spectrum of repertoire from all major musical eras, filtered through your sensitivity of today’s culture, what would your style of playing be referred to? For my piano students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?


A. I was educated in two distinct schools: the Russian and the German. My style represents both schools with the Russian School’s concentration on sound, imagination, and physical technique, and the German School’s focus on structure, rhythmic coherence, and style. The results are logical and passionate, or as reviews state: “impulsive and contemplative” interpretations; with “controlled obsession”. In classical painting, there is a new style emerging, which I believe would describe my approach: Novorealism. That is, however, a complex question. I have possibly one more general answer here: HuffPost Arts & Culture


Q. Your piano recordings are predominantly solos by composers ranging from J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Prokofiev with one duet for Piano & Violin by Liszt, with Alissa Margulis. I do not see works by Mozart or Haydn in the mix. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of composers, compositions and focus on solos versus duets or ensembles?


A. That is true, I don’t feel mature enough to play Mozart alone. My repertoire choices follow a few distinct paths: German music: Bach, Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, and other letters; Russian Music: Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Medtner, Balakirev, Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, and others; my own piano solo transcriptions from Bach to Shostakovich, and the great romantic virtuoso repertoire. As explorations of intriguing duo repertoire, I recorded Schumann’s Dichterliebe in original form (20 songs) and Berg’s seven early songs with Tenor Arnold Bezuyen and the complete Liszt piano/violin duo repertoire with my sister Alissa. Of course, I play a good deal of chamber music (including Mozart and Haydn) and am recently engaged with a multi-year project: the Margulis Sordino Pedal on Steingraeber D-232 with an all Schubert CD first, Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy, and other composers to follow.


Q. My students are interested in the latest rehearsal trends, tips, and techniques. For example, how do you prefer to mentally and physically prepare for a rehearsal? Do you have a set routine (best days/times)? How long do you usually rehearse to prepare repertoire? How do you prep before a concert?


A. Repetition is the mother of progress, but Purpose is its father. It takes 10.000 hours to learn to play the piano, and another 10.000 hours to master it and to figure out how to practice more efficiently. After that one finds his or her own way to prepare, practice, and rehearse. I play every day for several hours, sometimes much more, and usually very, very late in the day and night. The concert should be a momentary sharing, the tip of an iceberg, of what a musician is engaged in constantly. So the preparation for a concert to me is like forging Damascus steel – re-sharpening and re-forging it constantly.


Q. At what age did you realize you were a music spirit?


A. Either at 4, which I am told but do not remember or at 20, which is incomparably late … but only at 40 did I truly realize that music is an irresistible passion and a calling for me.


Jura Margulis, Age 1 on father's lap, Russia

Jura Margulis, Age 1 on father’s lap, Russia


Q. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as a musician? If so, how did you handle it?


A. No, and did not need to. I was born into a musical family (all of us); my father and his father were pianists and pedagogues, and I was never presented with a choice until I embraced it with existing and considerable skills. In addition, I grew up in Germany where a historical and cultural interest in the arts and a humanist education are still hanging in there.


Q. How old were you when you performed your first professional concert? How did you get the gig? Was it through teacher connections or via a professional manager?


A. I played my first professional concert – ticket sales, poster, pr, contract, etcetera – at age 13 . It was set up by a friend of the family in Freiburg. But, I performed in public since I was 9, won the all-German piano competition (Jugend Musiziert) in the age group 11 to 14 at 11, and played on TV age 12.


Q. Do you currently have a manager? If so, what tasks does a manager handle on your behalf?


A. Unlike many others I do most of my booking myself but employ, when needed, a booking agent and a press agency. I find it is more and more needed.


Q. How old were you when you knew you wanted to become a music teacher? Was there any particular person or event that inspired your decision?


A. My father and grandfather were pedagogues and pianists and I was taught both: how to play and how to teach. I was made aware very early on that some of the greatest pianists were also the greatest pedagogues (e.g. Chopin, Liszt, Busoni, Rubinstein, Hofmann, Neuhaus, Schnabel), which always inspired me. I never questioned my pedagogical mission or ability, taught private students age 18, at Conservatory age 24, and later researched the history of piano pedagogy in great detail and personal experimentation to give my teaching a sound methodical basis. I combine the two major schools – Russian and German – and created my own concept at 30 “A Unified Piano School” based on these traditions.


Q. Have you composed works of your own? If so, what style are they in? Will you be recording any of them?


A. By writing many piano solo transcriptions of orchestral, choral, and chamber music (by Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Mussorgsky, Caplet, Debussy, Puccini, Shostakovich), I feel initiated in composition. However, I have too much respect for the art of music composition to engage with it completely. It would take years of countless hours to cultivate an original style and more years before I would dare to record my own music. Oddly: In an hour of inspiration I wrote one piece, a lullaby for my son Alexander, which sounds like a mixture of Brahms, Busoni, and Strauss: beautiful melody, slightly unpredictable but harmonic cadence, and parallel fourths all the way. Stylistically, I would say Fin de Siecle (end of the 19th century). I sometimes play it as an encore.

Jura Margulis

Jura Margulis

. . . . . . . . .

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. If you would like to hear him live, he will be performing in Tarzana, California on June 1, 2014 at  Classical Encounters. Click the link to order tickets.

Enjoy viewing Jura Margulis in concert:


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Rather than sending you off to another link, I have included Jura Margulis’ bio below.


Jura Margulis is a third generation pianist and pedagogue; born in Russia, raised in Germany, American by choice, European at heart. He divides his time between the McAllister endowed professorship for Piano at the J.W. Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences in Fayetteville, USA, and traveling internationally as a concert pianist, master teacher, and lecturer.


Internationally acclaimed as a multifaceted concert and recording artist, Margulis is praised for his “absolute authority”, “controlled obsession” (Fono Forum), “impulsive and contemplative aesthetics” (FAZ), and “effortless spontaneity” (Washington Post). “After the performance one fleetingly thinks of the pianists that became legends, but comparisons are impermissible. Margulis is a master sui generis (of his own kind).” (Salzburg Drehpunkt Kultur).


Jura Margulis’ orchestral appearances include performances with the Russian National Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit. The past seasons have brought him to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Dallas, Cincinnati, Carmel, Austin, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Memphis, and New Orleans in the US, as well as abroad to Berlin, Freiburg, Elmau, Salzburg, Vienna, Warsaw, Bologna, Bruxelles, Bayreuth, Budapest, Bangkok, Barcelona, Madrid, Moscow, St.Petersburg, Seoul, Sapporo, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Aix-en-Provence, Tbilisi, Yerevan, and Lugano.


Margulis has recorded numerous CDs covering a wide spectrum of repertoire from Bach to Berg; over 50 titles from his CDs can be found on iTunes. His latest CDs include an all Liszt Piano/Violin Duo recording with his sister Alissa Margulis; a world premier recording of Berg’s ‘7 early songs’ and the original 20 songs version of Schumann’s Dichterliebe with Tenor Arnold Bezuyen; and a world premier recording on the MSP Steingraeber D-232 with an all Schubert Con Sordino program. The MSP website states: “The Margulis Sordino Pedal is a quantum leap for the dynamic (sound volume) and spectral (sound color) expressive palette of the modern concert grand piano.”


Margulis is the artistic director of the Fulbright Concerto Competition, an international piano contest in the US, and the executive director of the International Piano Academy Freiburg, a summer master class and piano festival in Germany. Jura Margulis is regularly invited as a judge in international piano competitions, most recently in the ARD Music Competition in Munich. He is a founding member of the Margulis Family Trio with his sisters Alissa and Natalia and performs with Martha Argerich on two pianos in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the USA.


Jura Margulis is the host of PtoP,, a weblog of thoughts, observations, methodology, rules, exceptions, aphorisms, and secrets from pianist to pianist.


Margulis has two sons, Alexander and Nikolai, and in his leisure time tries to pursue superficial entertainment, literature, philosophy, history, poetry, jogging, whimsies, and social media with dignity.

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